Eating the Secret Pork Chops of Tanzania
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because pork grill never disappointed anyone.
Ask anyone in Dar es Salaam about their last nyama choma (roast meat) culinary experience — you will not be surprised to hear the word kitimoto. A Swahili word that roughly translates into “hot seat,” it refers to a savory dish of pork chops meticulously grilled and left sizzling on a charcoal grill or immersed in hot frying oil, often slathered in a thick tomato-and-onion stew.
But you won’t find kitimoto on the menus of most conventional restaurants here in the largest commercial city of Tanzania. To taste this unique delicacy, you will not only have to go to the street, but right into one of its kitchens. Sometimes undercover.
Kitimoto street chefs like their customers to go right into the back, pick a portion size and place their order. The knife-brandishing cook then slices off a chunk of pork, confirms its weight on a scale and washes it. Then the meat is briskly anointed with vinegar, soy sauce and other spices before it’s cooked — either by tossing it in hot oil or placing it on the grill, giving the meat a comfortable bed for slow roasting.
While there are many theories about how kitimoto got its name, the truth is nobody knows for sure.
Depending on your preference, the chef can cook it extra juicy, chewy or slathered in vegetable stew. But be sure to plan for the extra time. Kitimoto is made-to-order only, and “the customer can wait up to one hour,” says Jeremy Kavishe, manager at the B Bar pork joint in the bustling Sinza suburb. This intricate preparation — grilling or frying perfect pork chops — is more of an art than a science, Kavishe adds.
While there are many theories about how kitimoto got its name, the truth is nobody knows for sure. It’s rumored that some people whose religious beliefs prohibit eating pork found it quite irresistible. So they would sneak into kitchens, order quickly and eat the meat while seated nervously in their chairs, anxious about seeing someone they knew.
Another possible origin: “Hot seat” is linked to the riots in 1993 when religious fundamentalists set ablaze facilities used for slaughtering pigs or restaurants that served pork. Today most street kitchens offer the meat with the Swahili code name Mbuzi katoliki (Catholic goat) or simply mdudu (insect), ostensibly to avoid offending religious communities.
Kitimoto lovers say that unlike beef or goat meat, the grilled pork is lean, tender and irresistibly tasty. It can be served with ugali, a local Tanzanian staple made of maize, or plantain (roasted green bananas) or kachumbari, a fresh vegetable salad of green pepper, onions, tomatoes and carrots. Prepare to pay 12,000 Tanzanian shillings (around $6) for each kilogram of pork, which, Kavishe says, is enough for one person.
One Sunday evening in Sinza, which is a lively neighborhood dotted with nightclubs and bars, I waited half an hour for mine to be prepared. Bongo flava music played in the background as other customers loudly chattered, drinking and chewing chunks of pork. A plume of aromatic smoke from the grill wafted my way, confirming that indeed, the meat was savory. My mouth watering already, I grabbed a few extra napkins in anticipation. I was not disappointed.